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Words matter because they affect how we conceptualize issues, and they inform and shape our responses to the issues and actions to which they refer. Therefore, it is important to use the appropriate words when referring to online sexual exploitation and abuse (OSEA). Below are definitions and descriptions of preferred terms when discussing OSEA, and why we use them. 

Adolescent girls

Although “adolescent” typically refers to people aged 10 to 19, we use the term “adolescent girls” to describe females who are entering or have reached puberty and whose physical features are beginning to resemble those of adult females. We recognize that “adolescent girls experience higher rates of domestic and sexual violence[,] domestic servitude and exclusion from education, than adolescent boys”. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. They experience multiple layers of discrimination: they are girls, they are young, and society sexualizes them. 

Child

Refers to anyone aged under 18. This is based on the standard set by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Child sexual abuse material (CSAM)

“CSAM” refers to visual material that depicts acts of sexual abuse and exploitation of children. 

Although many laws use the term “child pornography”, it is increasingly understood to be inappropriate since it suggests a degree of consent on the part of the child. The term “child pornography” has also been criticized because pornography is increasingly being normalized which, according to the Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Luxembourg Guidelines), may contribute to trivializing and diminishing the seriousness of sexual exploitation and abuse of children. According to the European Parliament, it is essential to use the correct terminology for the exploitation and abuse of children, “including the description of images of sexual abuse of children, and to use the appropriate term ‘child sexual abuse material’ rather than ‘child pornography’.”

“Child sexual abuse material” more appropriately describes the abuse and exploitation of children while protecting the dignity of victims. Where the legal term “child pornography” is used, we use the term “child sexual abuse material” instead. 

Digital service provider and platform

“Digital service provider and platform” broadly refers to businesses providing services such as digital messaging and chat services, social media platforms, other internet-based services, and e-commerce services. This report will focus mainly on OSEA that occurs on these kinds of platforms. 

Image-based sexual abuse

“Image-based sexual abuse” refers to the act of “having private, sexual images created and/ or distributed without consent.” Although the term “revenge porn” is commonly used, we find it is inappropriate as it suggests it is pornography and not sexual abuse and suggests a degree of consent from the victim(s). The term “revenge porn” also implies the non-consensual sharing of nude or sexual images is the spiteful action of an ex-lover. In fact, research shows the motivations vary, including coercion in domestic violence situations, malice, bullying, and harassment. 

We use “image-based sexual abuse” to include images and videos taken consensually but accessed without consent and then shared, as well as “locker-room” images and videos, recordings of sexual assaults arising from sexual coercion and extortion, and images and videos produced through image manipulation such as deepfakes.

Online sexual exploitation and abuse (OSEA)

This term encompasses a number of sexually exploitative and harmful behaviors that occur or are facilitated online and through the use of digital technologies. OSEA includes online grooming, live-streaming of sexual abuse, CSAM, online sexual coercion and extortion, online sex trafficking, and image-based sexual abuse. 

As technology evolves, new forms of abuse and exploitation emerge. Perpetrators often move victims from online spaces to in-person contact. When exploitation and abuse are only online, it is still traumatic. The impact on victims is not lessened. 

Online sexual coercion and extortion

This term is the act of sharing (or threatening to share) sexual images or information online or through the use of digital technology as the means of coercion. The aim could be to cause distress to the victim, to gain financially, or to sexually abuse and/ or exploit them. Other motivations may include malice or heightened attention on social media. 

We use this term rather than “sextortion”, which may not convey that the act involves sexual abuse and exploitation with extremely serious consequences for the victim.